Lesson 9: Interacting with Customers

Customers on social media can engage with you in many forms. They may comment, share, like or follow. The terms used can vary (retwitting, repinning etc.), but the concept is the same. Sometimes this engagement will be positive, sometimes neutral and sometimes negative. Regardless of the tone, it’s important to acknowledge customer interactions so that customers feel heard and appreciated.

1. When customers take an action that is clearly a positive endorsement of a business, acknowledge them with a personal thank you. For example, when they first follow you or when they post a positive comment about their experience you can comment back and thank them for their support.

Don’t be creepy about it. If you thank a customer for every single like, that makes things a bit too awkward. You seem like a stalker. Make sure to strike the right balance. You have to test out the frequency and tone of your engagements back with customers to get a good feel for your community. You may want to look at the social media profiles of successful companies in the same area or industry to get a feel for how the local audience interacts.

2. When customers take an action that is neutral at the surface, most of the time it should be treated as a positive interaction, and acknowledged as such. For example, when a customer posts an instagram photo from the business or checks in on Foursquare or Facebook, even without a caption, they are saying they’re in the establishment. That is a positive signal to all their friends and followers, and to all the friends and followers of the business. Even if they just post a funny cat pic to your profile, this means they thought of your business. Again, a positive. When a customer posts from your business or on your profile, you should like it and comment on the post, thanking them for being a patron of the business. The best businesses even ask how the visit went so they can learn from the feedback.

What the above two points demonstrate is the concept of reciprocity. Social networks are all about the song and dance of mutual recognition. Like, share, and comment on posts made by others who engage with you. Again, striking the right frequency is key. Don’t engage with every post or your engagements will seem meaningless.

3. Now for the hardest one, what to do when a customer says something negative online. This is quite a challenge, both professionally and personally for the business owner. It’s easy to get upset and even panic when someone says something bad about your business, so expect the business owner or manager to be particularly agitated by such cases. That’s also exactly why it’s better if you, the social media manager, handle the issue online. This is where you as a social media professional have a clear advantage over a potentially emotional or sensitive business owner. When you start working with a business, this is an issue to spend time on with the business owner so that you both agree on a policy.

Remember to consult with the owner when you see issues outside of the agreed upon policy.

Best Practices for replying to complaints and negative reviews

a. First, acknowledge that you’ve seen the comment or review and thank the customer for taking the effort to write his/her opinion.

b. Then address the issue at hand, the best you can. If it requires more investigating, tell the customer you will check and get back to them and then do that! Best practice is to commit to a timeline (e.g. I’ll get back to you on Tuesday) but if you can’t do that, at least give an upper boundary (e.g. I’ll get back to you in no more than 48 hours). Make sure your timeline is realistic but don’t let it drag for too long. Remember, we’re in the “Now” generation and customers expect quick resolution.

c. If you need more information, ask the customer for it publicly, and you can also provide an email where they can send you non-public details. Ideally, you’ve put in place an anonymous feedback system so you can direct the customer to that channel as well (more on this in future posts).

d. Then, work with the owner or manager to help you find out what happened and devise an answer together. If things are taking a bit longer than you expected or promised, update the customer that you’re still investigating.

e. If the customer is correct, apologize and detail what steps the business is planning to take to rectify the problem. These should be steps at the individual level (such as a refund and compensation) and at the systematic level to help prevent the issue from arising again. Respond to the customer both privately and on the social media platform where they posted their grievance. You cannot have bad reviews or complaints lingering online with no response. That would show customers you don’t care and drive them away.

f. If you and the owner think the customer was incorrect, explain your point of view politely and acknowledge there can be other points of view. It’s ok to disagree as long as you are professional about it and have a rational explanation. It’s also worth rethinking the business’ policy if it seems many customers disagree with you. As a social media manager you should keep an open mind and approach the owner to discuss such issues.

Sometimes, even when technically right, the business is better off not arguing the case, especially if it’s a small issue or a rare case. Use your judgment and prefer diffusing a situation rather than escalating it.

g. Be aware that not all customers will accept your answers. Some will continue to bash you and spread negativity about the business. Remain calm. As long as you respond professionally, other customers will see and understand who the rational party is. In fact, it will reflect positively on the business. The worst reaction is to lose your cool and come off as a crazed, immature business owner or social media manager who can’t take criticism or handle feedback.

4. Most customers will be decent people who will resolve things civilly even if they disagree with you. Once in a while you will get a customer who will not let up and who may be determined to ruin a business with their negative posts or comment. Often, the owner will suspect a former employee or an existing competitor to be the perpetrator of an online attack. If you encounter such a case, you can take action using tools available on the various social channels to report spam and block people. Use those tools sparingly. You don’t want to prevent customers from voicing legitimate concerns; you only want to prevent trolls, spammers and bad actors from abusing the system. 

Negative online posts need to be discussed with your client, both on a policy level and as they occur. They are a touchy issue emotionally for many owners and they can also have substantial business implications. 
The best way to avoid these uncomfortable situations is to prevent bad reviews from showing up online in the first place. We, of course, suggest you use OwnerListens for this purpose. In the on-boarding section you will read more about tools to prevent negative reviews and comments on social media.

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